ROCCO MUST GO
A few months back I criticized National Endowment for the Arts czar and former Broadway mega-producer Rocco Landesman for essentially hiding out from the arts community by making stealth trips to tiny backwaters of American culture and abjuring the bold statement of vision needed to pump up the arts in a USA which doesn't appreciate the arts much anyway. As the great music critic Peter Guralnick once wrote in his survey of the blues, Feel Like Going Home: "What is popular has never corresponded to what is good. Or at least what is judged after the fact to be worthwhile rarely turns out to have been especially prized at the time."
Now, it turns out that Landesman has not been emulating the recently departed Ellen Stewart of La Mama, who felt that the only necessary audience for undiscovered geniuses like Sam Shepard or Harvey Feirstein was an audience of one, i.e. herself. No, Landesman has been emulating Mitch McConnell and Barack Obama in their pathetic "war on earmarks," a symbolic attempt at budget-cutting by attacking the kind of local projects funded by our representatives, which, you guessed it, especially include the arts.
Rocco wants to socko the already meager government support for arts creation in this country. It turns out his trips to the American hinterlands have been a culling spree, resulting in his recent speeches declaring that the audiences for the arts in this country are diminishing and, therefore, the solution is just to shut down the arts all together.
Rocco thinks that struggling nonprofits should emulate superkitsch platforms like Glee and Dancing With the Stars, tinseltown factories whose main purpose is to recycle old, corporate-owned songs and corporate-controlled washed-up celebrities (and their agents, hangers on, etc.), to make money flow again into an entertainment industry decimated by the popular use of the internet and other technological means by which local culture is shared globally.
Such a surprise from the former CEO of Broadway's largest theater organization, which transformed the world of Jerome Robbins, Harold Prince and Stephen Sondheim into a kitsch destination stop for the same rube tourists whose few cultural opportunities back in Kansas Landesman wants to strangle, suffocate and destroy through deprivation of paltry nonprofit funds.
Barack Obama, a person of far less avant-garde sophistication in the arts than his image would project, has played us for suckers on a lot of fronts. After all, General Electric boss Jeffrey Immelt, whose mega-business was saved from bankruptcy by Obama's billion-dollar bailout, has just been appointed by the president to head the federal Economics Competitiveness Council, while Rocco Landesman shuts down a theater, or a conservatory or a small nonprofit gallery in Sheboygan.
Even for me, the exploitative cynicism of our "liberal" elites is overwhelming. Rocco must go!
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).